John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The Movement is Spreading and Deepening

A sign of the institutionalizing of any educational reform movement, of course, is the spreading and deepening of the activity in terms of adoption and success. The “movement” I am most interested in is the so-called “first-year experience” or “college success” or “student success” movements, which I am sometimes credited with launching. I did play a role in that, for sure, but I certainly had a great deal of help, especially from my colleagues at the University of South Carolina, and later from the Institute which I founded.

One manifestation of this “spreading and deepening” is the slow but gradual proliferation of state and regional convenings of higher educators that I and my two non-profit organizations focused on student success have NOT organized and hosted.

There are such initiatives flourishing now in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Ohio; and now a newcomer, but a real “comer”—in Massachusetts which is a gathering for the entire New England region.

I participated in the First Annual New England Student Success Conference, organized by my friends Robert Feldman and Mark Lange and their outstanding team at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. There first gathering was held on October 8 and had as an original planning goal 250 attendees. It was “sold out” and “closed” at 300. Talk about demand. When I left the meeting, the organizers were already planning next year’s gathering. If you are interested you should contact either of those gentlemen. I recommend you request from them a link to the session materials. I attended two sessions which were both outstanding: one by a splendid team from Framingham State University who illustrated how to translate a complex action improvement plan into sustained implementation to reap increased student success and retention (about10%); and the second by Jane Wellman, the provocative and profound scholar of higher education cost assessment. We all need to take her advice and start assessing the cost benefits of our first-year initiatives and we will be inspired by the results of her model for doing so.

I think it is most fitting that the region where “the first year” in American higher education began in 1636 has its own “network” for which the foundational steps were laid at this first meeting. There is nothing like local grass roots action to institutionalize any movement.

Congratulations from a recovering former Yankee to my New England colleagues who are moving to the next level in promoting student success.

-John N. Gardner

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